World Book and Copyright Day: Bibliophiles talk about their bookish obsessions

World Book and Copyright Day: Bibliophiles talk about their bookish obsessions

A bibliomaniac is someone who is passionate about collecting or possessing books

Manasi Y MastakarUpdated: Saturday, April 22, 2023, 10:08 PM IST
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Manav Kaul, actor and author

Bibliomaniac, much?

I'm not a bibliomaniac yet, but I love to collect books. I to live in a small apartment and didn't have the space to keep my books. So I started giving them away. At one point, I almost gave my entire collection, except some of my favourites.

First edition obsession

I am not the kind of person who collects first editions. But, if I have to think about it, if I have to do it so it would be Albert Camus’ The Outsider. The book had a huge impact on me when I read it for the first tim e. It took me by surprise because it was cool writing, engaging, and beautiful.

Readers, keepers!

Yes, I have borrowed books from friends and not given back. These are books you don’t get easily. For example, there was a Hindi book called Beetiaap Beetiaap by Vipin Kumar Agrawal, one of the most beautiful writings I have read. It was out of print. I made an excuse and I still have that book and keep going back to it.

Book that has made an impact me

It’s not one book, whatever I have read has made an impact on me in some way. I did most of my reading in Bombay. The first book would be Deewar Mein Ek Khirkee Rahati Thi by Vinod Kumar Shukla followed by his Naukar Ki Kameez. The entire collection of Nirmal Verma, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment had a huge impact on me. I have used Raskolnikov's character in my plays and novel. Then there's Camus and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, which had a huge impact on me. I love reading and keep on exploring new writers and every time I get surprised. Like, I just read a book called Color Purple and I loved it. It was so tender and beautifully written. There are so many amazing books.

There is a funny incident. When I was reading Crime and Punishment, I was so into it. And at that time I was dating an amazing person. We were going through a rough batch and by the time I finished the book, I was single again. So that is the impact that book had on me!

Vivaan Shah, actor and author of The Forsaken Wilderness

Bibliomaniac, much?

I am a bibliomaniac par excellence! In 2014, I had ordered a copy of an obscure play by my favourite playwright, Clifford Odets, that is since no longer available. At that time too, it was a rare copy and took a long time to arrive, and was also expensive. There is a high possibility that I am in possession of the last surviving copy of that play! The same could be said of another obscure play which I had ordered in the same year – both the editions are those vintage maroon hardbound editions that carry the mustiness of an antique library. I also found copies of old and obscure hard-boiled crime novels in the mystery sections of second hand bookstores. A lot of those books are also prized possessions, and aren't to be found anywhere. A lot of Hindi literature is hard to source, and our house boasts an expansive and comprehensive collection of many rare jewels and gems of Hindi literature.

First edition obsession

If given a chance, I would steal the first edition of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel with illustrations by Gustav Dore.

Readers, keepers!

I had borrowed a rather large edition of Crime Comics with illustrations of Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammet, among others. Not only did I not return it, I gifted it to a good friend, who is a comic book aficionado.

Vivek Mehra, Founder and CEO, Vikramshila Research Pvt Ltd

Bibliomaniac, much?

I think I am sort of a bibliomaniac. I have a few hundred titles in my personal library.

First edition obsession

If given a chance to steal a first edition, it would be A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton. It has the original photos of mystics he met when he travelled in India. Subsequent editions have removed them. Plus, it’s one of the most fascinating travelogues ever written about India post 1857.

Readers, keepers!

I had borrowed The Tortured and the Damned by Robert Payne and not returned it. While it’s a novel it details the horrific period that brought Bangladesh into being.

Book that has made an impact me

There are actually a few books that affected me. But since I am best known as an effective manager then I would have to say that Rework by David Heinemeier Hansson changed the way I worked. Another book that changed my life is How India Lost its Freedom by Pandit Sunderlal. The latter is a book that will reduce you to tears when you understand how systematically India was destroyed from within so that the British could seize power. Part two of the book is British Rule in India - it talks about further destruction of our culture, heritage and faith in ourselves so that the British could rule India for so many years. Every Indian whether interested in history or not should read these two books.

MJ Akbar, former journalist and politician

Bibliomaniac, much?

I don't know about being a bibliomaniac, but books are my principal and teachers as well as being my most coveted luxury.

First edition obsession

I wouldn't steal a first edition. Have too much respect for anyone who has a first edition.

Book that has made an impact me

At different stages of life, different books have made an impact on me. Once it was Macbeth, then it was Hazrat Ali's wisdom. Studying Gandhi over the last 15 years inevitably led me to the Bhagavad Gita. Ghalib had great impact when I delved into his verse. But no book really replaces a previous influencer. You add layers… And each one helps your thinking to evolve.

Aashisha Chakraborty, author of Mis(S)Adventures Of A Salesgirl

Bibliomaniac, much?

I believe every writer is a bibliomaniac and so am I, crazy for words and books! Stealing a first edition sounds tantalizing. I would love to have the first edition of 'Gone with the Wind'. It is one of the best coming-of-age stories with grey characters who undergo personal transformations along with the war and other societal upheavals. Another book I have always wanted to have is Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I wish I could read the first edition in German.

First edition obsession

Stealing a first edition sounds tantalizing. I would love to have the first edition of 'Gone with the Wind' since it is one of the best coming-of-age stories with grey characters who undergo personal transformations along with the war and other societal upheavals. Another book I have always wanted to have is Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I wish I could read the first edition in German.

Readers, keepers!

My mom’s friend lent me Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead when I was in school. It was the first time I read the book. I got so excited, I underlined the heck out of it. When she saw the book, she told me to keep it. I kinda feel I consciously highlighted my favourite parts (basically the whole book) so it compelled her to let me keep the book.

Book that has made an impact me

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance talks about something close to my heart- writing and quality. The inquiry into values and the search for quality was so honest, deep and impactful that it became one of my top ten reads till date. Additionally, the story of the author, Robert Pirsig, getting 121 rejections before he published his book which he wrote over four years while slogging at his day job, resonated deeply with me.

Nilosree Biswas, author of Calcutta On Your Plate

Bibliomaniac, much?

Yes, I am. I have been building a small personal library for years. When I am no more I want the books to be donated.

First edition obsession

Not sure if I want to use the word steal, but I would like to have "The Book of Travels" by Hanna Diyab, a Syrian Maronite writer and storyteller born in 1688 in Aleppo, Ottoman Syria. It is one of the most fascinating accounts of travels through that part of Asia about which I have always been intrigued even as a child! As an adult the reasons would change and the said book would be my go to understand the intersection where culturally East and West meets, if at all, the Ottoman empire and The French World of 17th century - a mind boggling historical canvas to examine.

Antun Yusuf Hanna Diyab popularly know as Hanna Diyab was the original creator of the world's two of the most beloved and famous stories: Aladdin and Alibaba and the Forty Thieves which later became principal stories of any and all versions of "One Thousand Nights and One Nights" starting from French orientalist Antoine Galland's popular version of  the same (published between 1704-1717 in 12 volumes).

Readers, keepers!

I taken a book for reading and not consciously returned it one or two times. Like, The Magic Lantern - Autobiography of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. I don't recall from whom I had borrowed it, I was in this unconscious dilemma whether to return the book, a strange sense of possession dwelled on me in my early 20s then. Those were days when many of us believed that cinema can change the world, so The Magic Lantern was a book of inspiration for a young filmmaker like me.

The other book was by Italo Calvino. A friend who has drifted away, left it at my home in Bombay in the mid-2000s and we have never met after that. So, the book has stayed back with me.

Book that has made an impact me

Pretty much all books of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but mostly Love In the Time of Cholera (1985). Because it's Transformative, it told me that life is about love and complexities and nothing is bigger than life. I don't know Spanish, so I am indebted to Edith Grossman's translation (Penguin Edition).

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